Midweek bliss at Loftus

FROM THE STANDS, Loftus Stadium — Soweto would be loath to admit it but Loftus has dethroned it as the place to be for midweek football. The beer is cool, the air is warm and the football is delicious.

You can count on those factors to blend together in one sexy symbiotic mesh. The Pretoria stadium now provides as close a guarantee to a worthwhile Wednesday night as you’re likely to get in the capital city.

It’s a venue that somehow is immune to the capricious temperaments of the Premier Soccer League — both in the stands and on the field.

Except last week.

AmaZulu came to town and inexplicably left with three points — the first league loss for Sundowns in more than a year.

Thanks to that result, there were a few nervous twitches around the ground as the Black Leopards walked through the tunnel. Could another minnow dare to believe that they too could crash the party?

No. Not at all.

Rather, their performance was so timid it would make any member of the cat species ashamed to share their name.

At the other end it was Sundowns’ famed shoeshine and piano football at its finest, football that was at times so fluid it was hard to keep track of in real time. “Was that Themba Zwane who sent the ball through for Lebohang Maboe?” you would nudge the person next to you as you struggled to assess what just happened. “No, it was Anthony Laffor.”

On such days it’s easy to be a fan. The singing is uninterrupted, the dancing is enthusiastic and the cheers are full-hearted.

Countless men fully decked in Sundowns overalls clung to and shook the now vibrating front railing between them and the pitch — itself draped with yellow flags. This core group revelled in the action, savouring every touch and feint.

Behind them sat those who had come for the aforementioned good time, many of them Tuks students who have only just resumed classes. Vests, thin braids, miniskirts and short jeans, selfies and flirting: there was very much a university tinge to proceedings.

A sole Leopard sat among all this at the tunnel end. He would stand and limply wave his purple-and-black flag in support of any inkling of aggression from the visitors.

It was one such occasion that allowed the Brazilians to break the deadlock in the 40th minute. Hlompho Kekana’s rabid tackle to halt a counterattack drew the night’s loudest cheer — even before it ultimately led to the goal.

Amid the many nuances you can enjoy by trading in the television for a ticket, the live appreciation of hard work tops the list.

Coach Pitso Mosimane replicated that on the field when he tightly embraced his captain after Maboe had tapped the ball in.

The contest was over long before the 85th minute, when Ricardo Nascimento stroked in the penalty to make it 3-0.

But for some reason that’s when the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans decided they had seen enough. Camped at the adjacent end of Loftus for most of the game, their significant numbers were only noticeable now that they were leaving en masse. With no option but to file behind the goal to get out, their exit became a walk of shame as the home crowd jeered them away. Hundreds of hands went up in unison as the mob transformed into a coherent choir that bragged of their success. What had been a visit in the hope of seeing an unlikely upset turned into humiliation.

The future looks bleak from their perspective. At this point it’s hard not to see this Sundowns team winning the league; the football is too slick and the resources are too vast.

But that’s for the future to confirm.

For now, at least, the outgoing Hatfield residents and football fans have something in common: a jaunt they can rely on.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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